Fighting Atemporality

May 15th, 2011 | brainjuice

Professor Bernard Quatermass, protagonist of Nigel Kneale’s germinal QUATERMASS sequence of televisual novels, fought the consequences of his own pursuit of the future in THE QUATERMASS EXPERIMENT.  Kneale himself saw the progression of the original trilogy as the alien invasion arriving, in EXPERIMENT, the invasion having arrived a year earlier in QUATERMASS II, and the invasion having happened five million years ago in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT.  Quatermass wasn’t fighting aliens so much as he was fighting time.  (And other things, because, like all good science fiction, QUATERMASS was social fiction.)

And then there was the final work, simply entitled QUATERMASS.

Quatermass old, tired, alone and at bay.  Produced in 1979 but set at some vague millennial point – the only QUATERMASS expressly set in “the future” – the story revolves around attacks from space that have probably occurred across geologic timescales.  It also resonates with a contempt for youth and a determination that the future is in the hands of the old and wise.

And yet.  We see him here as a guest on a tv special depicting the last in an obviously long line of “hands in space” US-Soviet orbital link-ups, the sort of thing that was (made out to be) a big deal in the 1970s.  This is a future in which nothing’s moved on.  The menacing youth-cult “Planet People” were, in Kneale’s conception, “angry punks,” but the producers and director made them insane hippies instead – in 1979, a production choice that was somewhat dated, but in 2011 puts the show right into library-music weird-70s-tv atemporality.

There is no invasion, in QUATERMASS.  The troubled, dogged professor has simply lived too long, and entered the modern condition: a world where there is no forward motion, everything seems to be an iteration of something else, and the lives of hundreds and thousands can be snuffed out at random by something unseen and awful that nobody quite understands.


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